My good friend Dave who piloted Boeing 747s concludes his absorbing three-part part story, “A view from the flight deck”; absorbing insights and an incident or two.
Now and then we would be treated to some spectacular Aurora over the northern latitudes. Over the tropics we would get some energetic light shows from massive thunderstorms, especially during monsoon season over India and Africa. On occasion had to deviate up to a hundred miles to get around them – some of which were monsters, over 60000 feet to the tops, which could cause major problems even for a jumbo. Altogether best avoided and first-class passengers don’t like having aerial tours of the cabin unexpectedly.
The best views are the ones coming into faraway places.
Places like Sydney, Vancouver and San Francisco with their harbours, landings into islands where the runway, often built out into the sea, sometimes seemed bigger than the island itself and of course the old airport in Hong Kong with its low approach over the local population…. the view just before landing was always more dramatic from the passenger cabin.
As for the hours spent up the front during cruise, when everything was going smoothly and no storms or turbulence to cope with, most of the time was idled away with magazines/papers, or, for the more dedicated, time read the manuals to refresh technical knowledge.
It was officially sanctioned by the authorities that in quiet phases of flight one pilot could push his seat back clear of the controls and take a nap as it was considered better than both pilots staying half awake. Cabin crew are required to check on the crew every 30 mins in cruise (just in case) and consequently an awful lot of tea is drunk.
In the days before the 9/11 lock-in, passengers would also come up for a visit and ask inane questions but it was fun and kept us busy. I once had 7 children and some adults in the cockpit of a 777 (which was much larger than the jumbo) and keeping them from twiddling things was like playing whack-a-mole.
I spent over 6500 hours doing about 650 flights on the jumbo and never had any major technical problems. It was a superbly reliable aircraft and was built to withstand everything thrown at it.
Modern aircraft are so well designed and built that the biggest problems were, and are, nearly always caused by people….. mostly from passengers on board but sometimes caused by external events….
INCIDENT REPORT 9/11
I was on the way to San Diego coming up over Greenland when we got the message that US airspace had shut and then Canada also weren’t letting flights in. Nothing we could do but turn back and so after 10 hours airborne we ended up back in Gatwick.
The hardest part of that day was going around the passenger cabin pretending not to know what had happened and explaining that we weren’t being given any updates. I’m not a good liar but it was a case of having to. Some very worried people got off that evening.
Dave, thank you very much for three great pieces! The jumbo was, is a great plane and your writing has brought the whole experience of flying one to life - GREAT VIEWS!